WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump's campaign is defending his eyebrow-raising decision to spend precious campaign time promoting his business in the final days of the long presidential campaign as his poll numbers sink.
With less than two weeks left before Election Day, the Republican candidate is taking a break from full campaigning Wednesday to formally open his new hotel in Washington. Meanwhile, he is dispatching his running mate, Mike Pence, to play political defense in Utah — which hasn't backed a Democrat for president in 52 years.
Trump's hotel stop follows a visit Tuesday to another of Trump's properties, the Doral golf course outside Miami. The odd travel schedule less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election illustrates a Republican ticket pulled in two directions while Democrat Hillary Clinton surges.
Trump's campaign manager defended the stops, arguing that Clinton took time off to prepare for the debates and that stops at Trump's hotels highlight his business experience. "Hillary Clinton took five days off to prepare for one debate and everyone looked at that as some kind of noble exercise," Kellyanne Conway said, on NBC's "Today" show. "He's got the most active campaign sked of the two candidates by far."
Still, Trump's hotel visits dominated the campaign news Wednesday at a time when Republicans see reports of rising Obamacare premiums and the hacked email of a Clinton campaign staffer as far more potent political arguments.
Clinton, meanwhile, has turned some of her focus to the post-election period, describing the difficulty of unifying the country after a divisive race. Deep in transition planning, people familiar with her effort say Clinton plans to impose strict ethics rules on how lobbyists may participate in her effort.
"What Trump has done is to make it possible for people who had racist, sexist, and all kinds of prejudices and bigotry to put them right out there," Clinton said on the "Breakfast Club," a syndicated radio show based in New York City. "I'm not going to be able to wave a magic wand and change everybody's thoughts."
Later Wednesday, Clinton is holding two events in Florida, both aimed at encouraging voters in the state to cast early ballots. It's the candidate's 69th birthday, a milestone she celebrated a day early on Univision's entertainment news show "El Gordo y La Flaca," where she was feted with a bottle of tequila and a large cake featuring her face and the White House.
Her campaign released two new ads Wednesday billed as laying out her closing argument. The spots, scheduled to run in seven battleground states, feature her plans to help families if elected and draw a contrast between her and Trump.
"Our children are looking to us. What example will we set?" says actor Morgan Freeman, in one of the ads, as footage of children flashes on the screen.
Trump's hotel appearance comes amid signs that his controversial presidential campaign has hurt his corporate brand. Rooms at the overhauled $212 million hotel that bears his name at Washington's Old Post Office Pavilion have been heavily discounted and smartphone data suggest fewer people are visiting his properties compared to rival venues nearby. A new Facebook live show produced by his campaign has heightened speculation that Trump may try and offset any losses with advertising revenue by starting a media network — a plan he denies.
At his Miami golf course, employees, many of them Hispanic women, offered testimonials Tuesday about how happy they are working for him — touting Trump's job-creating prowess.
He also promoted the workers as examples of people affected by rising "Obamacare" premiums, though the golf course's general manager later clarified that most workers receive their insurance through Trump as their employer. The federal government announced this week that premiums for insurance under President Barack Obama's signature health care law would rise sharply next year — news some Republicans heralded as an unexpected political gift.
"He could make this race for the last two weeks a referendum on Obamacare. But of course he won't do that," said former Ted Cruz strategist Chris Wilson. "It's just a matter of him swatting at flies instead of having a coherent and consistent message."
After stopping at the hotel not far from the White House, Trump will visit North Carolina for what his campaign is billing as an urban policy speech.
Besides Utah, Pence also is stopping in the swing states of Nevada and Colorado before he heads on Thursday to solidly Republican Nebraska, a state that awards some of its electoral votes by congressional district. His rally in Omaha may be aimed at shoring up support in the one district that Clinton could potentially win.
Spokesman Marc Lotter said Pence's Utah visit is more about favorable logistics than fears the deep Republican state could be slipping away. Pence had already planned a Western swing that included a fundraiser in Utah, he said, adding that a rally was easy.
But Trump can't count on heavily Mormon Utah, last won by a Democrat when President Lyndon B. Johnson carried the state in 1964. Many of the state's top Republicans urged Trump to abandon the race following the release of a 2005 recording on which he bragged about sexually accosting women.
That's been a boon to independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent and graduate of Brigham Young University.